Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dominions of Glory:10

Dominions of Glory: 10

Here's a bit of a longer section...Not sure how much more of this I'm going to post since I'm starting to run into a lot of issues that need fundamental re-writes... But I'll see what I can do to keep people happy...

“Baelin what?” Whisper asked, looking first to Dilirian and then to Baelin for an answer. “Baelin what?” she repeated.

“I’ve got a bit of money,” Baelin said, leaving it at that.

Whisper stared at Baelin and he got the distinct impression she wasn’t just looking at him, but searching for something. “There’s stories,” she said solemnly, “Old stories, faerie tales that mothers whisper to their children as they fall asleep. My father used to tell me several interesting ones.”

“That’s nice,” Dilirian said dismissively. “I bet one of them was about gold magically appearing in the mountains.”

“Not in the mountains,” Whisper chided. “But yes, actually. There’s one in particular that comes to mind.”

“Let’s hear it,” Baelin said, genuinely curious. He didn’t know many faerie tales or Old Stories. His mother hadn’t known many and wasn’t one for story-telling. Aside from that, he spent so much time alone he simply didn’t have many opportunities to hear them.

“In the Old Days, back when Iln was a small city in Baeilnidor, there was a small, protected family with few descendants. They were extremely wealthy, and lived like kings, some even said they had once ruled all the land from the Western Sea to the lava fields of Duun far to the east. But now they were simply a wealthy family of particular note, that kept themselves holed up in a private fortress in the middle of Iln.

“As often happens when rich folk hide themselves away, all manner of rumors sprung up about them about who they were and where they came from. Most of the stories were nonsense, obviously: they were never seen because they only came out at night; they never left their fortress because they were all hideous and disfigured. All a bunch of nonsense. But, if you could sift through the dross, there was a common thread to many of the more reputable theories. It seemed certain families had long kept watch on the family in question, and had noticed odd things about them. Things disappeared or appeared at random when they were about. People who drew their ire would often vanish without a trace.

“Well, after many long years of speculation, without even a single person seeing a living soul inside the fortress, my great-grandfather, nine or so generations ago, snuck inside the fortress as a young man. You see, my line was one of the families that had long kept watch upon the family in question, for there was a general mistrust of that family, and those who watched were there to ensure they never ventured out trying to reclaim the vast empire that had supposedly once been theirs.

“Once inside the fortress walls he found vast troves of treasure, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and of course, gold, chests and chests of it, just lying about. But as he wandered through the place he saw no sign of any life. He wandered and searched, careful at first, but as it seemed to him that caution was no longer needed, he walked about in the open, and went so far as to pocket enough gems and coins as to make himself a wealthy man.

“He searched until darkness fell upon the city. And just as he decided the place was abandoned and that he should return home, he heard a ragged old voice behind him. He turned and saw a man who looked to be three hundred years of age, such was the state of his wear. His skin hung and sagged as if it were ready to fall from his bones, his eyes were so far set back in his skull that they could barely be seen, and all that was left of his hair was a few stray white wisps.

“After a moment’s pause my great-grandfather took a step back, somehow fearing the wrath of this decrepit old man. ‘You are too late, Watcher,’ said the old man. ‘My seed has escaped these barren walls.’ At which point he began to cackle, and as he cackled, it seemed to my great-grandfather, so many generations ago, that the very stones beneath the man turned to gold beneath his feet.

“The old man, realizing that the stones beneath him had turned to gold began to curse and shout and threatened to summon fire if my great-grandfather did not flee immediately. So my great-grandfather turned and ran, still with his treasure hidden away in his pockets. As he ran he said it was as if a wind was sucked out of the world and drawn into the spot where the old man stood, cursing him.

“Well, upon returning home my great-grandfather, so many generations back, spoke with his father at length about what he’d seen. His father told him that the old man was part of a family long known to have odd things happen about them, such as having stones turn to gold. His father then went on to explain that they, being my family line, had been watching that old fortress specifically to ensure the family within never turned whatever dark powers they had on the world in conquest.”

Whisper let her last words hang in the air for a moment and then bowed her head.

“Wait, what?” Dilirian said. “That’s the end? That stories absurd. Surely you don’t believe it. You speak as if the man had the Magic the Old Stories tell of. Surely you can tell the difference between a child’s fable and the truth?”

“It’s how my father told it to me,” Whisper said firmly, looking as if she might pull her mace out and use it in a moment.

“And besides,” Dilirian continued, oblivious to Whisper’s mood, “the golden paving stones within the Baeilnidor fortress were put there by Jahin the fourth, it is well known. I should know; I crossed them a dozen times a day for the entirety of my life. Jahin had decided to make a show of our province’s wealth by slowly replacing each stone within the fortress with golden bricks, but he died several days after the project began, having changed only a small portion of one hallway out. His son, my great-grandfather as many generations back, Heridon, saw the folly of his father’s plan, but did not have the heart to tear up the golden bricks, and left them as a memorial to his late father.”

“What was the point of the story,” Baelin quietly asked.

“I thought it would be clear,” Whisper said, shooting a venomous sideways glance to Dilirian. “In that story gold mysteriously appeared as it has tonight.”

“But under quite different circumstances,” Baelin noted.

“Well, yes,” Whisper said and began to say something else when Dilirian cut her off.

“A bunch of nonsense,” Dilirian said.

“I’m afraid she’s not full of nonsense,” came an accented voice from the darkness. “I’m afraid her version of the tale is much closer to the truth than yours is.”

Dilirian and Whisper both had their weapons drawn in a moment.

“Put those away,” Baelin said because he’d recognized the voice. He called out into the darkness, “Hazeem, come to the fire, will you?”

Hazeem walked into the pool of light cast by the fire. He had olive skin and graying hair, which had been brown the last time Baelin had seen the man. His head was oddly shaped, coming to a point at his nose and sloping backward sharply for both his forehead and chin.

“I thought you’d long since left Shadyridge,” Baelin said.

“And so I have,” Hazeem said with a keen smile. “But I made my destination different than I originally planned.”

“Who is this?” Dilirian asked, still holding his sword even though Hazeem was clearly no threat and Whisper had since put away her mace.

“My name is Hazeem. I am a friend of Baelin’s.”

“Not much of a friend,” Baelin said. “I thought you were half a world away.”

“Bah,” Hazeem said. “They could run me out of town, but they could not get me to abandon this place. I’ve made a home in the mountains where I’ve been able to overlook the land for miles. I’ve seen you in the fields on many occasions.”

Something in the way Hazeem spoke made Baelin nervous. He instantly thought back to all the times he’d used Magic in any area that might’ve been seen from above. He’d done so dozens of times, but he could hardly believe Hazeem would’ve been able to see the results of that use from so high up.

“I wish you’d let me know you were still here,” Baelin said. “I would’ve come up for a visit.”

Hazeem laughed. “I think it has been best that nobody knows I am around.”

“Yet you make yourself known now,” Dilirian said, finally sheathing his sword.

“I was drawn by the fire,” Hazeem said. “And seeing it was simply Baelin, well, I figured I would offer words of warning.” He paused for a moment. “But I should speak to you first, young one,” he said while looking at Dilirian. “When traveling alone through the mountains, you would do well to learn to step quietly. You never know when you might stumble upon a bandit encampment. I shadowed you on your trip for several hours without notice; you were so loud you didn’t have the chance to hear me.”

Dilirian flushed.

“But more than this,” Hazeem said, “I warn you. There are devils about. You would do well to be wary. I have killed many of the creatures in this area, but I cannot say with certainty that you are safe.”

“That’s why we are here,” Baelin said. “To hunt the devils and keep people safe.”

“Ah,” Hazeem said as nodded his head in sagely manner. “The young and ill-tested journey together. I hope this is an expedition you were not coerced into taking?”

“We decided to come because we had the necessary tools,” Dilirian said, quite defensively.

“I see that,” Hazeem said. “Armor and weapons are good for these devils. But I have spied far larger problems in the distance: smoke rises from across the river in Gaulder. The country-side burns and winged devils can be spotted in the air as night begins to fall.”

“We’ve heard of this also,” Baelin said.

Hazeem nodded as if that was expected.

“You said my story was more correct,” Whisper said, suddenly changing the topic. “How would one whose homeland would appear to be so far away know anything of this story?”

“How does anything know anything?” Hazeem asked. “It was taught to me. And you,” he looked to Dilirian, “should not show such ignorance of your own house. If you knew anything of history you would know that story you just shared was a lie. How long has your family line been in power?”

“Some five-hundred years,” Dilirian said proudly.

“And how many of those years have they been seated in Iln?”

Dilirian hesitated. “Nearly one hundred.”

“Then how is it that you can claim your ancestors are responsible for something that took place before they were given the Iln seat by their king?”

Dilirian had no response, which brought a smirk to Whisper’s face.

“I would think the important point of this young lady’s story, though, would be that the old man who is spoken of in the tale shares a name with young Baelin here.”

Baelin’s face went red and he hoped the darkness hid the reaction.

“I was getting to that,” Whisper said, “before Dilirian cut me off.”

“I did not!” Dilirian insisted.

“Wait, the old man was named Baelin?”

“Well,” Hazeem said, “Baelelin, which is the more formal version of your name and is often shortened to simply: Baelin.”

Baelin frowned.

“Wait, now you’re saying that our piece of gold appeared randomly because Baelin was here and he happened to share a similar name as someone from a stupid story you heard once?”

“You cry like a young baby who’s had the teat taken from his mouth,” Whisper said.

“I do not!” Dilirian cried.

Hazeem smiled broadly, revealing a row of pristine teeth that belied his aged appearance. He gave Baelin a wink and settled down by the fire as Whisper and Dilirian went about a verbal war.

The argument continued on for some minutes before Dilirian sulked away from the firelight, defeated by Whisper’s sharp tongue.

“That boy has no brain in his head,” she said, still fuming.

“He’s just had one small portion of his education neglected. I think you’ll find few nobility willing to admit that a commoner knows more than them in any subject they consider of worth.”

Baelin and Whisper both agreed to this.

They continued idle conversation until Dilirian came back. Baelin invited Hazeem to share their fire for the night, but he opted to return to his home, wherever that was, and said he would join them again in the morning.

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